I am having a bit of a Pearl Binder moment. Fantastic name. There is not a lot of information about her out there. A short, tantalising entry in Wikipedia opens up more questions than it answers. But there is nothing like poking about on the internet to find out more. I love to follow bizarre, occasionally rewarding links. You get a snapshot of who else is interested and often find another book to buy…
Binder was an interesting figure. She wrote and illustrated many books and was particularly obsessed with dress and folk arts, indeed all things decorative. She was well entrenched in the London commercial art circles. I love these mid-century artist / ethnographer types – Barbara Jones was another – as they had a beautiful, strangely naive yet socialist vision of Britain to espouse. They were part of the pre and post-war movement interested in design education in its widest sense and what, as they saw it, modern society lacked in terms of cultural and historical references for re-building its national visual identity. Between them they wrote and illustrated books on beautiful clothing, architectural history, follies, indigenous craft skills, furniture, interesting shops (yay!) and so on.
I love the fact that Binder’s illustrations re-interpret historical items, re-drawing them with artistic licence and, probably, inaccuracy. And I love her drawings, although she was not a great artist. At heart a curator, Binder was a cultural kleptomaniac. Piling up reference upon reference to things she found cool and then fitting them into the stories she wanted to tell. She lived in east London and obviously had a bit of a thing for London traditions, particularly the Pearly Kings and Queens (and who wouldn’t with her name?) whom she eventually wrote a book on in the 1970s. This illustration, though, is an early indication of her obsession, from a 1959 children’s ‘Look Book’ on clothes.
I have always thought the ‘pearly jackets’ wonderful! Interesting post! Thanks for commenting on my blog!
When I was fourteen (in 1958) I fell in love with Pearl Binder’s handsome son, Daniel Elwyn-Jones! I’ve often wondered what Pearl Binder looked like. She was married to Frederick Elwyn-Jones, who became Lord Chancellor. What a couple they must have been! She was the older woman: four or five years older than him. Unusual for those days.
When we matched in the an the Bomb march from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square in 1957 or 58 Polly brought a huge load of small flannels so that we could clean and sooth our tired feet. Me affectionatly called her Mrs. Feetie.
Polly was a wonderful artist and unstoppable talker. We could fall asleep and wake up and she would still be at it. Loved her. Po
In 1975, as a recent textile design graduate from Manchester, I was invited to meet Lord Elwyn-Jones at the Lord Chancellor’s residence. I arrived in the midst of a family birthday party. I expected a very formal meeting but the afternoon turned out to be quite the opposite. I met Lady Elwyn-Jones Pearl Binder, Dan and his wife and baby Polly, named after her grandmother. We had wonderful cakes, lots of “vino” and I helped to do the washing up as the staff had an afternoon off. I remember that Lord Elwyn-Jones also helped clear the dishes. Lady Elwyne-Jones was a very lively, slightly Bohemian lady, very interested in art and design. I looked at her work displayed on the walls and she looked through my portfolio. As a result of this meeting I was invited to exhibit some of my fabrics at the forthcoming Inter Parliamentary Fashion Show at The Royal Academy.
Valerie, thank you for your comment. It is really interesting to read snippets about people I write about. I am quite jealous you met Pearl!
Dan Elwyn-Jones was at the Quaker Leighton Park School in the late fifties. His father was indeed Lord Chancellor and a Labour MP as well as barrister.
Dan has followed in his parents footsteps but into social care for immigrants in Inner London.
Ahh. The ‘Pearl’ story continues.
I knew Pearl and Elwyn at the House of Lords and at their home in Grays Inn. I remember one partygathering in the house of Lords when the chidren were all paying and my niece found a goesunder chamber pot with a winking eye at the bottom it ammused the kiddies and the adults ha ha
How lovely to have known them. And a party in the House of Lords sounds pretty grand, too.
My grandfather was a good friend of Polly. He had taught her in his role as lithographic and ethcing technician at the Central School in London. He had helped her out to move ( a moonlight flit) when she had no money at all and stayed friends with her throughout her life attending many of the parties she and Elwyn held. She always sent a christmas card to him – designed by her and signed. I’m lucky enough still to have them.
As a family we were allowed to stay at their homes in Brighton for a weeks holiday – we took over in their absence.
She and Elwyn seem to have always kept a close link with their working class roots and certainly never forgot their more “lowly” friends even after reaching the giddy heights of Lord and Lady.
Oh how nice to have the Christmas cards still. I’d love to see them. There certainly seem to be a lot of good memories around Polly and Elwyn.
It’s amazing to read these posts. Dan Elwyn Jones (as he was) was lovely. I was on that 1957 Aldermaston March as a 13-year-old. I remember that we passed through Leighton Park School and Dan was manning a table with Ban the Bomb leaflets. He was also with the Youth Movement & I ran into him at the Central Hall Westminter at. Conference attended by Bertrand Russell, CEM Joad and many other intellectual and political luminaries. What a time that was!
Gosh. I wish I had the time and the wherewithal to research and write a book about Pearl and these times.
I too knew her when I was at the Central ijn the 60s. She used to sit in on the Costume cutting day (Tuesdays) lectures. I think she was mates with the two teacher.
However Now I am designing some permanent external information boards for Lewes Crescent where she lived and would like to use this image.Do you know where I get permission from ? Who owns the copyright ?